Centuries to Form a Bustling City in the United States, Only Seconds to Destroy it in a Climate Catastrophe

Aleighson Robertson

What if there is a way to prevent climate catastrophes from destroying cities by incorporating climate resilience plans. Climate resilience is the capability to expect, prepare for, and combat climate change-related events and disturbances. It is essential for cities worldwide, specifically the United States, to make planning decisions, regardless of climate change uncertainty. Although every city and town needs a climate resilience plan, none should be identical because resilience is highly localized.

Some cities delayed the implementation of a climate resiliency plan until a catastrophe had occurred. For example, Houston, Texas, did not begin its climate resilience plan until it experienced Hurricane Harvey in August 2017. Houston released its climate resilience assessment in 2020 named “Resilient Houston”. North Carolina provides another example; in 2012, the state was very adamant against climate change. The legislators banned agencies from applying sea-level rise data to policies. After Hurricane Florence in 2018, the governor stated: “Our future success will depend on the measures we take now.” That statement was in the Florence recovery plan of North Carolina. However, that statement put in perspective that North Carolina needed to start planning for the future of climate change, sparking the writing of the state’s climate resilience plan released in June of 2020. North Carolina has a blanketed resilience plan, but most individual cities do not. As a result of this delay, cleanup and restoration after the catastrophe cost the state more than if they had a plan previously in place prior to the devastating events. 

What Are United State’s Cities Plans for Climate Resilience? 

The city of Oakland in California is restoring the wetlands that were once part of the city. The wetland restoration will protect communities from floods and sea-level rise and help reduce global warming because the wetlands will capture and store carbon from the atmosphere. There are plenty of additional benefits for the restoration of wetlands that are beneficial for the community.

Joplin, Missouri, has rebuilt structures in order to attempt to inhibit destruction due to future extreme weather events. The reconstruction started after the EF-5 tornado hit Joplin and portions of Jasper and Newton counties in 2011. The tornado demolished thousands of structures, including the Mercy Hospital in Joplin. Architects then designed new structures with tornados and high winds in mind. Now, many structures have a precast concrete shell, windows that can withstand high winds, and partially buried generators for backup power in an emergency.

Chicago, Illinois, is working to enhance its urban forest to help reduce urban heat, control stormwater, and provide habitat to local wildlife. Planting more trees in Chicago will reduce the urban heat island because the trees will supply more shade in the city, which is full of concrete and asphalt. The trees will be able to absorb water after a rainfall, reducing the amount of runoff.

Norfolk, Virginia, establishes strategies for coastal resilience. The city is vulnerable to flooding, including precipitation flooding, storm flooding, and tidal flooding. It is also susceptible to sea-level rise and subsidence, making risks for flooding more extreme. The city requires that all new and most pre-existing construction is at least three feet above the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) mapped base flood elevation with a freeboard. A freeboard is used to flood proof the lowest floor of a structure.

There are plenty more examples of cities in the United States taking action to combat climate change and initiating climate resilience plans. However, not every city has created strategies, and the time for them to start planning ahead is now. Climate change is happening right before our very eyes and approaches to alleviate stress on both the residents of an area and the environment need to commence. If cities would be more proactive instead of retroactive, they may save themselves time, money, and effort in the future. Most of these plans were put in place after a storm ravaged through their city. The plans would allow the time to develop them well instead of quickly because of necessity. It would save them money because they would be preventing devastation and have less to rebuild. Thus, possibly reducing revitalization efforts. States should act now sooner rather than later to avoid devastation from a climate change catastrophe.  

Cities need to start planning now. 

Sources: Audubon, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, and U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit